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Story Board Marks Battery's Lawe Tops Links

With this year marking 160 years since volunteers were called upon to assist the British Armed Forces, a South Tyneside community is reflecting on its military links and the birthplace of the local Territorial Army.

Rising tensions throughout Europe in 1859 renewed the need for volunteers to be trained in the use of rifles and artillery in case of invasion, especially in maritime towns. The river Tyne was particularly vulnerable, being one of the powerhouses of the British Empire supplying coal, ships and armaments.

A year later, following an appeal to citizens, the 3rd Durham Voluntary Artillery (DVA) unit - now known as 205 Battery Royal Artillery - was formed in South Shields. The Battery had a base on the Lawe Top, at Lawe House, which had originally been built as barracks for soldiers during the Napoleonic invasion scare.

Councillor Audrey McMillan, Chair of the Place Select Committee and a Beacon and Bents ward member, said: "It's no surprise that the Lawe Top area was at the heart of the town's military defences given that it provides an ideal vantage point over the harbour and mouth of the Tyne and would have played a key role in protecting the area from enemies approaching by sea.

"This is evident in the Roman garrison at Arbeia Roman Fort to the building of warships on the Tyne. Though the creation of the Volunteer Force and origins of the town's Artillery Volunteer Corps are less well known."

In recognition of these links, an information panel has been installed in the area. The panel - 'Defending the Tyne and the Country' -stands near the two replica Napoleonic War cannons and old Tyne Pilots house at the Lawe Top and chronicles the history of the 205 Battery, which is now based in Northfield Gardens. The Battery holds the Freedom of the Borough, awarded in 2007.

The panel was an idea conceived by the late James Swanson-Stobbs, former Chairman of the 3rd Durham Volunteer Artillery Association, and was funded with a £1,550 contribution from the Riverside Community Area Forum with support from the Beacon and Bents ward members.

Captain James Foster, of 205 Battery, said: "The information panel is a great tribute to Jim. He had a very keen interest in the long history of the Battery and the town's volunteer defence.

"The volunteers would regularly drill on the beach and practice batteries were set up on the Lawe Top ballast hill, later to become North Marine Park. Jimmy would have been delighted to see his idea come to fruition, helping to spread the word about 205 Battery's origins in the area."

James' widow, Cathy Stobbs added: "It is a lovely gesture by the Council."

Councillor Fay Cunningham, who is Lead Member for Voluntary Sector Co-operatives and Partnerships, and secretary of the South Shields Mission to Seafarers, knows only too well the Borough's strong maritime links.

She said: "It's important that we keep the Borough's rich maritime and military heritage alive and this information panel gives a really fascinating insight into the sort of activity that was carried out at this spot 160 years ago.

"I'm sure anyone with an interest in military history, whether they are local residents or visitors to the area, will enjoy being able to find out more about the story behind our local volunteer artillery corps."


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